WASHING DISHES for about 200 people is more exciting than washing dishes for two or three! You get to use lots of equipment, including a spraying hose and a big dishwasher — you just insert your load and hear a hiss and the machine takes it in and goes to work.
I’ve done this job twice. I look forward to doing it again, even thoughI have to give up a recess to do it. Here’s how it works:
First the two kids go down to the cafeteria at 11:15 a.m. and wash their hands. Next they volunteer to ether put away or dry the dishes.
Once that is decided, they wait for people to clear their lunches and Cafeteria Manager Sonya Hamdan or Roxanne Shearer will put the dishes in a huge washing machine to wash the dishes.
If they put in silverware, the kid putting dishes away gives them back and puts them in once more. When silverware is washed twice, the “put awayer” puts them on a table and the dryer probably dries them. That process goes on and on until every class, from pre-K to 6, is dismissed by 12:30 p.m.
The dishwasher is quite loud when the dishes go in.
You have to wear gloves and you cannot touch any part of your face during your job.
According to Mrs. Hamdan the work is also very important:
“We love having them here, especially as there are only two of us. The kids do a great job.”
Sometimes, she added, “helpers come back years later, even after they graduate, and say they remember this as a fun time, and that they miss it. That can bring a tear to my eye,” she told the Flow.
After everything, on my way back to class, I tend to feel proud and my fingers feel wet and pruny.
WE WONDEREDwhat goes into the school meals program at BSE. One dayrecently after the lunch rush Flow reporter Diana Yaseen and adviser John Snyder sat down with Cafeteria Manager Sonya Hamdan to find out.
Diana: Where does the cafeteria food come from?
Sonya: Some comes from the government. Every month we receive a list and can choose from what’s on that list. There might be some hamburger or chicken, frozen vegetables, canned fruits, lots of things like that, and I’ll order from there. Also I order through a company called Thurston for breads and anything else we need, all the vegetables… The milk and the yogurt come from All-Star Dairy.
Diana: How do you decorate?
Sonya: I bought the decorations myself. The Christmas ones, some of them, Mrs. Shearer brings in from her home. All the Thanksgiving decorations are mine that I bring in from home. We lower those three strings and I can hang things from the ceiling. I think it makes it more festive to have something over everyone. And then I cut out with my Cricket machine different things to put on the bulletin boards. If I see something on sale that fits the theme I buy it.
Diana: How much food do you serve every day?
Sonya: Today was chicken nuggets and peas and carrots. We served 128 kids and so many adults. That’s why lunch counts are so important, so we know for sure. I have an idea, but right now we have a lot of kids who are out sick. So we need to have an accurate count. On a day like today when we have a per-piece item, like chicken nuggets or hot dogs, I need to know how many kids are eating so I can do that much — and I always cook a little extra. Kids come in late, or don’t sign up for whatever reason, and we have enough. Every chicken nugget is counted when we put it on the tray.
For the Thanksgiving meal we served 247 [diners].
Diana: And everyone else brings in their own lunch?
Sonya: There are 260-something kids in the school, so the others bring in their own lunch. Buckland-Shelburne has been a school where a lot of the kids bring their own lunch, consistently, for whatever reason. A third of the kids, anyway. There are some with food allergies, so we eliminated our peanut butter. Now we have SunButter [soy-and-sunflower-based]. That way we don’t have to worry about anyone. And a fair amount of gluten allergies. And there are some kids who just like what their mom or dad packs.
Chicken nuggets is one of the most popular lunches, along with breadsticks, pizza, and French toast sticks…
Diana: Fruit is popular.
Sonya: Every month different things come in that the kids like: frozen strawberries, some cheeses, canned and frozen fruit. This list is for the entire district. I write a wishlist for what I would like of those, as the list is for all the schools in the district. If there are only three of something a school isn’t going to get what it wants. But they’re usually pretty good about making options available.
Diana: How about breakfast? How many people?
Sonya: It seems to be 28 to 30 people. We’d like more. But what happens is that when kids come in they like to play on the playground with their friends. They don’t come in and have breakfast, even though it’s free for everyone who has free lunch, or 30 cents for reduced price, and $1. Thirty-six is the highest we’ve had.
Diana: Is there a lot of measuring?
Sonya: There is. Everything has to be measured. For example, when I’m making up the menu, I write down what I would like to do [serve], and then go back though and put in the vegetable component, the fruit component, the grains, the meats, because it has to meet requirements — a half cup (this is for lunch) daily, and a weekly requirement. Each kid for lunch must be offered certain minimum and maximum amounts.
The difference is that, starting this year,  the kids have to go out with ½ cup of fruit — even if they don’t want it or they don’t eat it. They have to go out.
Vegetables: ¾ cup offered every day. Usually that’s ½ cup of one kind and ¼ cup of a fresh. But it has to be 3 ¾ cup per week.
Meat: At least 1 oz. day. We always serve 2; it can be a little more. But it cannot be more than 10 oz. per week.
Grains: 1 oz. That’s why, today, with chicken nuggets, I had to put a piece of bread on. Because the breading on the chicken nuggets did not count up to 1 oz.
And so forth. If you don’t follow these guidelines, when the state inspects you, you will lose all of your commodities that you order from the government; you will lose all of your reimbursements from the government, which is based per meal.
[Referring to guidelines] Here, this is a minimum of 1 oz. Who would give a kid only 1 oz. of meat or meat alternate?
John: Do you see kids having more energy and focus after breakfast and lunch? Do you see that as part as what you do in terms of being in a school setting?
Sonya: I think you’re right. More so, I think we give lunch to some kids who don’t have any lunch at all: No breakfast, no lunch. There are actually kids in this school who would not otherwise have a breakfast or lunch, and sometimes when they go home don’t have a supper either. So that is a sad fact.
Some kids in years prior have come up to me after the Thanksgiving meal and thanked me because they don’t have a Thanksgiving meal at home, never see decorations at home. It’s not the norm but it’s more common than you might think.
Independent, student-led media for the greater Shelburne Falls area